In memoriam: Judith Johnston

It is with great sadness that we have to share the news that our friend and former School Director and colleague, Judith Johnston, passed away on 26th August 2018. On behalf of the School of Audiology and Speech Sciences, I wish to extend our heartfelt condolences to Judith’s beloved family, friends, and colleagues at this difficult time.

Judith joined the school in 1989 and served as Director from 1989 to 2000. She continued as a Professor from 2000 to her retirement in 2008.  Following retirement, Judith generously offered her invaluable support to our students and faculty as Emerita Professor. Judith will be fondly remembered for her wise leadership and mentoring that deeply impacted the lives of so many in our School community and beyond.

Judith’s research focused on the developmental relationships between language and cognition, and she contributed countless articles and book chapters to furthering our understanding of these relationships. In 2008, she received a lifetime achievement award for research from colleagues at the Symposium for Research in Child Language Disorders for her contributions to the understanding of developmental language disorders.

In her roles as teacher and clinician scientist, Judith was passionate about bridging the gap between theory and clinical practice and to fostering community-based clinical training. She was a strong advocate for the professional community and worked tirelessly to supervise and mentor students in their clinical research and professional learning experiences. An example of this commitment was Judith’s online publication called “The Language Intervention Digest”, a series of essays for clinicians and educators on making the theory-to-practice connection. She went on to reorganize, update, and expand the essays in her 2006 book entitled “Thinking About Child Language: Research to Practice” (published by Thinking Publications), a volume that continues to be a valued resource for students, SLPs, and teachers.

Her excellence in teaching was also recognized through receipt of the UBC Killam Teaching prize (2002) and Canadian 3M Teaching Fellowship (2003). Furthermore, both Speech and Hearing BC (formerly BCASLPA) and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association bestowed upon her the Honours of the Association for her outstanding contributions to the field (in 1998 and 2004 respectively).

Judith’s brilliant intellect, dedication and passion for teaching, and unwavering generosity will be sorely missed by all who knew her. She has left behind an inspiring legacy that will continue to shape the School and its community in the years to come.

A celebration of the life of Judith Johnston will take place at the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, 3811 Point Grey Road, Vancouver, on Sunday October 28 at 2pm, followed by a reception. You are all most welcome to attend.

Please share your memories of Judith in the comments section below.

Jeff Small, Director
September 5, 2018

28 responses to “In memoriam: Judith Johnston”

  1. Jamie Hack

    I am so sad to hear of Judith’s passing. I was so fortunate to have had her as a teacher and a mentor. For someone so accomplished and intelligent, she was incredibly down to earth. She explained complex theories in a way that was accessible to new and experienced clinicians and provided functional clinical skills that I will always use. She was respectful of all differences and had a kind heart. My deepest condolences to her family.

  2. Heba Ghobrial

    I too am so sad to hear of Judith’s passing. It was more than just a pleasure to have her as a teacher. It was truly an honour as her intelligence was matched only by her kindness and common sense. My time at the program was not as joyous as i might have hoped, but learning from Judith and having her to reflect with was a true highlight. She made difficult things (learning and social) more accessible and fun. She was also so kind to recognize and engage with me long after graduation. I enjoyed those encounters (both academic and social) so much (in particular a visit at the Folk Festival)! With warm thoughts and condolences to her family and friends. It is a hard time ahead, but I trust that your time together and your memories will bring you comfort.

  3. Jennifer Reich

    Judith was so kind to mentor me and help me with my final research paper for my Masters in SLP. I will be forever grateful. It was a joy to share in her wisdom – I remember visiting her home with its lovely garden, and sitting together to go through my ideas. I remember how thoughtful she was about the entire process and how she spent time considering my ideas and giving feedback as if we were both working to find answers, and that we both had time and space to be curious about the questions and the research. Her legacy of helping will continue in all the clients we UBC SLPs help as we work.

  4. dorothy mathews-dana

    Sincere condolences to Judith’s Family, I did not know her personally but I was always aware of her tremendous contributions to the field of Audiology and Speech Sciences. May the many fond memories fo her bring Family,Colleagues and Friends comfort.

  5. Barbara May Bernhardt

    We work with words, but when confronted with the inevitable, words truly are inadequate to express the immense sorrow of loss. For those of you in her intimate circle, I first would like to express my deepest sympathies at your loss. I will share a few bits that are not in the bio above to add to the picture of this brilliant, sparkly and feisty human being. I first met Judith when she came to be our new Director and I was getting toward the end of my PhD at SASS. I discovered to my delight, that, over a decade before, we had worked as clinicians (at different times) in the same facility in California, i.e. the Scottish Rite Institute for Childhood Aphasia, associated with Stanford, where she had done SLP training. In the 30 years that followed, we had so many stimulating conversations about child language, cognition, curriculum, classical music, the outdoors, family, life! There are so many memories – here are a few: (1) great parties at her house near Jericho, when the School was still small enough to have all faculty and PhD students or all graduating Master’s students and their families in someone’s living room and yard! (2) the raucous nightly chorus from her frog pond and having the chance to actually be a rapping ‘frog’ for one of her milestone birthdays – 50th I think; (3) hearing her belt out a call to meeting that resonated across Mather with her rich, resonant and powerful soprano voice; (4) hearing that voice blend in a beautiful classical ensemble which also included Shelagh Davies; (5) finally, after she retired, having the chance to finally collaborate with her on a project of shared passion – establishing local language acquisition norm references in First Nations communities, through not surprisingly, language sampling! She herself had Native American heritage, i.e. Cherokee ancestors who had been on the forced relocation “Trail of Tears”, one of her many motivations for that project. We were in fact recently still working to complete the project and will do our best to finish it in her memory. Even though I didn’t see her often in the last few years, every visit brought sadness and joy, sadness at seeing her decline, joy that she was still the same feisty, sparkly, brilliant Judith. To Judith! And your great legacy!

  6. Heidi Logan

    I will remember Judith as an intelligent, giving, and kind-hearted individual – she was the voice who accepted my call when asking about successfully applying and being considered for the program; she imparted her knowledge to our class, and we surely did not comprehend the depth behind her words and teachings; and she always listened to any concern, no matter how small. Thank you Judith for your caring and for all you shared during your time with us.

  7. Paola Colozzo

    Judith was my mentor, and over the years became my close friend. Monique Charest and I were lucky to be her two last doctoral students — particularly given that she wondered even back in 2001 how much longer she would be able to actively participate in all aspects of academic life. Knowing Judith for the last 16 years has enriched every aspect of my life and fundamentally changed me. It has always been difficult for me to write or speak eloquently about who she was or what she has meant to me. When she retired, Monique and I put together this list of things Judith taught us. I thought i would share it with you all again now:

    The top 10 things Judith has taught Monique and Paola
    #10. That no matter how hard you try, you can’t summarize an entire research project in one sentence… even one with 17 predicates.
    #9. That if you have one good idea, you’re likely to have more down the road. There’s no shortage of great ideas out there. So don’t be afraid to share and collaborate.
    Actually, in the genealogy, we apparently owe this one to Dan Slobin.
    #8. That one can become an excellent professor ‘by accident’!
    #7. That teaching and learning can truly be a shared responsibility. The great teacher guides and accompanies students down the learning path.
    #6. If you’re at a conference in San Diego, make sure you go surfing. If it’s in Santa Fe, find time for the Georgia O’Keefe museum. Basically work hard, but stop to smell the roses too!
    #5. That talking faster and adding more slides is not the solution to how to cover everything we think must be said or learned on a topic.
    #4. That clinician/researcher hybrids such as ourselves truly do have something valuable and unique to contribute to Academia and to the profession.
    #3. Above all else, that we should do research that is interesting to us, that we’re passionate about. Likewise, that we must allow students time to find their passion.
    #2. If your apricot jam doesn’t set up, call it apricot syrup, and it will still taste delicious…. There’s an important life and career lesson there!
    #1. The true meaning of the word mentor!

    Judith will be sorely missed by many, but her commitment to good scholarship, her enthusiasm for the next good idea, and her ‘get it done’ spirit will live on in those of us who were privileged to learn with and from her.

  8. David Stapells

    I will miss Judith.

    Judith hired me, bringing me home to Vancouver from New York. Finally, a “boss” I could respect, trust and consider a friend.

    She was so important to the School and its development; the School is what it is today because of her. Judith was an excellent mentor. I enjoyed working with her, and helping her with her many schemes to help the School. Later, when I became Director, I used what I learned from Judith (and often went to her for advice).

    Always a fighter, right to the end. Many thanks Judith.

  9. Jana O'Connor

    This is such sad news; Judith had an incredible mind and I know the School and the broader community is feeling this loss deeply. She was one of my favourite professors and I will always remember her kindness, her wisdom, and her sense of humour.

  10. Julie Lewis

    Judith’s passing is an immense loss for our field and I’m sure an even greater loss for her family. I had the pleasure and honor of learning from her during my time in the speech pathology program at SASS. As everyone knows, Judith’s intellect was fierce. Her knowledge and understanding of human cognition and language within that was vast. And yet she made it completely approachable for those of us just starting our journey in the field.
    Judith approached her work with curiosity and passion. She was always curious about developmental language disorders and she had a passion for support to individuals who face them. One of the biggest gifts she bestowed on her students was inspiring curiosity and passion in us.
    Judith worked hard to connect research to the everyday challenges of front line clinicians. Through her Language Intervention Digest she shared her brilliant interpretation of recent research results and how they could be applied to the day to day work of SLPs. Another gift was her teaching that as front line clinicians we must always stay in touch with the latest research even if it is to read just one research article a month.
    One statement Judith made in class has stayed with me the most: “in the face of uncertainty we still have to act.” As a relatively young field, there are more questions than answers in speech language pathology. Acknowledging this she inspired her students to be confident, creative and decisive clinicians.
    A colleague of mine said that to honor Judith she would read a research article of Judith’s that she hadn’t yet read. I think this is very fitting and plan to do the same.

  11. Heather Morris

    Judith was one of the first people I met at SASS over 10 years ago when I was applying to the program. I sometimes wonder what life would be like if Judith had not supported me. Judith’s support, positive attitude, drive and encouragement will forever be a part of everyone she was in contact with. Her legacy, along with her knowledge, has empowered many individuals to pursue dreams, careers, research and much more. Her impact will always be remembered and her legacy will be forever strong. My condolences to her family and everyone within her circle of life. You will be missed.

  12. Shelagh Davies

    I wanted to add a few thoughts and memories of Judith. She is well-known for her ground-breaking work in the area of child language and cognition but I have been fortunate to know the ‘other Judith’ – kind, funny, perceptive, loyal and compassionate. She was my colleague, mentor, collaborator, singing partner and dear friend for 20 years.

    Everyone reading this knows about Judith’s giant intellect and I’m sure I’m not the only one who sometimes felt a wee bit intimidated. When talking to her you felt that, by half way through, she knew what you were saying and had sorted through 3 possible replies. But Judith never used her intelligence as a sledge hammer to push her own agenda; she always considered how her words and actions would affect other people. That extraordinary mind was balanced with great kindness and a clear-eyed ability to ‘see into the heart of things’.

    Judith took great pleasure in being curious, or as she said she was “a sucker for a good idea.” I was the fortunate recipient of this curiosity. After a lifetime’s work in child language and cognition she switched gears to mentor me in a project examining the relationship between voice and well-being in transgender people. And, again fortunately for me, she was as competent as she was curious.

    She found joy in so many things – flying kites, traveling, being with friends, taking photographs, writing, teaching, and listening to and performing music. We sang together for many years in an informal a cappella group. She had a beautiful strong, true mezzo voice – such a reflection of who she was.

    She was whimsical; I remember the 2 of us belting out madrigals as we walked through the SASS halls (doors closed rapidly) and when driving a rental car at midnight on Kawai, through pouring rain, deeply lost.

    She was brave and committed to what was true, wise and just. She solved problems; she never turned away because something was difficult. She has created her own legacy; Judith enriched the lives of hundreds of people and she has been deeply loved.

  13. Bosko Radanov

    Judith enriched a great many lives with her own. I was fortunate to be in one of the last cohorts of students she taught at SASS and would like to follow Shelagh in sharing a few memories.

    We first met Judith when most of us were still reeling from the realization that we were to spend two years in slightly noisy, somewhat smelly portables. This was in 2006/2007, as SASS waited for the new Friedman building to be finished.
    Where was the elite education we were promised? What was this?

    Then Judith held the first meet-and-greet in those same portables.
    She started the meeting by asking us what we were hoping to achieve through our efforts and study?
    This question could not be dismissed, because Judith had such compelling energy and energizing sparkle in her eyes. The ensuing conversation and her deep, sincere interest in every one of her students quickly made us forget where we were. It also dawned on us that this was it. The setting did not matter. We were in one room with THE elite, a giant in academia and her field. This was what we came here for. Judith was not only going to teach us coursework, but much more.
    Every class with her turned into effortless learning and was an absolute pleasure to be a part of. It would not be fair to say that Judith just taught. She did much more than that – she inspired us all. We are all better clinicians for having had her as our teacher.

    Several years later I ran into Judith at a concert in the Orpheum. She again had that same energy and sparkle in her eyes, as she excitedly addressed a particular movement in the classical piece we just listened to. Immediately afterward, my impressed partner inquired if this fantastic woman maybe was a music scholar?

    Suffice it to say, Judith left an impression on everyone who was lucky enough to meet her. Her positivity, intelligence, social grace, and investment in her fellow human beings was nonpareil. Judith was interested in and shared a great many precious things.
    She will forever be one of my favourite professors.

    My deepest sympathies to her family and friends.

  14. Linda Rammage

    Judith was an inspiration, as a mentor, a friend, a fellow vocalist, a humanitarian. Exploring a topic with her always took me to a deeper place and amplified my enthusiasm for any issue. She offered me a teaching position as soon as I stepped back on Canadian soil, and her trust in me gave me great confidence. Judith will be missed by so many of us, but remembered and appreciated by even more well into the future. Her contributions have shaped the SLP profession and opened up many more possibilities. Thank you, Judith and sing on!

  15. Yves Joanette

    Judith Johnston was one of the great inspirers of Canadian Speech-Language and Hearing sciences. I had the opportunity to benefit from Judith’s tough full advices when I was the Director of the École d’orthophonie et d’audiologie of the Université de Montréal. I received more than advices, since Judith was full of humanism and opening to others. I am extremely sad to hear this sad news. I wish to her family and also to her colleagues — her extended family — my most sincere condoleances. On August 26th 2018, Canada has lost a grand Academic in our field.
    Merci Judith.
    Merci Professor Johnston

    Yves Joanette, Université de Montréal and CIHR

  16. Janice Johnson

    I worked with Judith for many years in my role at what was then the Centre for Teaching and Academic Growth, including one full year project. She was a wonderful person, always willing to share ideas and brainstorm with others’ ideas. She was thoughtful and caring, and supported our Centre in many ways. My thoughts are with her family, friends and close colleagues.

    Thank you, Judith – you enlightened my life!

    Jan Johnson, formerly with the Centre for Teaching and Academic Growth

  17. Valter Ciocca

    I first met Judith about 20 years ago in Hong Kong, where I was a faculty member in the Department of Speech and Hearing at the University of Hong Kong and she visited the Department as an external reviewer of the SLP program.

    Before meeting her in person, I was familiar with some of her work on the relationship between cognition and language, which I had been using to teach a cognitive psychology course for SLP students. When I met her in person I was immediately impressed by her sharp mind, and by her ability to apply theoretical knowledge to clinical practice (and vice versa). At the same time, I also admired her ability to communicate complex ideas in a down-to-earth manner, and to discover important questions about facts or situations that most people (including myself) found obvious and unproblematic. I also experienced first-hand how she could let people know that they had (likely) been wrong, without making them feel that they were “wrong” (it is ok to make mistakes, as long as you can learn from them…).

    When several years later I applied for the directorship of our School, I was excited at the prospect of being one of her colleagues. After joining the School, she was very supportive of me as Director. She was very generous in sharing her experience as a former director, and as a leading academic scientist. She made me feel like she was always willing to help, and she did. I will always be very grateful for her support.

    At a personal level, I feel fortunate that she shared with me her passion for music, cinema, gardening, and detective novels. I remember a few times when I mentioned to her a crime novel or an author that I had just discovered, just for her to tell me in a casual way how she had enjoyed this novel (and had already read all the novels by this author). Knowing Judith, I quickly realized that if I discovered a “new” exciting idea, or music, or film, or novel, she already knew (or thought) about it, and that one should not feel less enthusiastic about it. Judith was one of those rare people who seem to always be a step ahead of you, but she did not ever make me feel inferior or disappointed. She was direct, but also tactful, enthusiastic, and sympathetic.

    I will always feel privileged to have known you, and to have shared memorable time together. I will miss you, Judith.

  18. Jenny Zoia

    How fortunate I was to be at SASS during Judith’s time there. Her ability to convey the interplay between language and cognition, and the interaction of all aspects of learning, continues to guide my practice. I enjoyed reconnecting with Judith at conferences, where her reverence for the human mind continued to inspire. What a legacy: thank you Judith!

  19. Lisa Langford

    I was so privileged to have had Judith as my professor for Developmental Language Disorders in the early 2000s. Not only did she inspire us with her brilliant mind and ability to share what she knew, she always kept the business of being human at the forefront. Her recommendation to “sit down and have a cup of tea” with the families we work with has stayed with me throughout my clinical career.

    Thank you, Judith.

  20. Megan Wood Pagonis (formerly Curran)

    When I entered SASS, it was at a truly difficult time in my life. Not only was confronting significant personal turmoil, I had moved across the country from Ontario to a place I had never been before and knew no one. I had the privilege of having Judith as my first year mentor and ongoing mentor throughout my studies. I could say a lot about her ability to teach and her strengths in research and clinical work, but for me the most memorable moments I have where those when she made me feel like I belonged. Her support was invaluable and it still tugs at my heart whenever I think of her. My thoughts are with her family and closest friends at this time. I can only imagine that if she made me feel this way how utterly deeply she has touched others and enriched our lives.

  21. Tracey Sing

    Judith was an amazing professor who shared so much of her wisdom with all of her students. I remember reading her on-line language digest long after graduating to hear Judith’s golden nuggets of insight across the miles. She was a legend and I feel privileged to have been able to learn from her. My deepest condolences to her family and friends.

  22. Dr. Catherine. M Constable

    Judith was of the three most inspiring women in my lifetime. A genius, a mentor, a friend.

  23. Paul Fletcher

    I knew of Judith’s work and had also chatted to her at conferences — particularly at the SRCLD in Madison over several years. But I didn’t really get to know her well until she came over a period of three years as external examiner to the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences at the University of Hong Kong. At the time we were in the process of implementing a problem-based learning curriculum. Judith proved to be a valuable advisor to the Department, not least because she was not wholly convinced by the approach. But her constructive criticism, support and wise counsel was of considerable help to us. Professionally, I think it’s that word ‘wise’ that sums Judith up — always bringing to bear a reflective and inquiring intelligence on practical solutions to issues in child language disorders. Her approach is best illustrated in the collection of her Language Intervention Digest essays, ‘Thinking about Child Language’, a book which I keep returning to. It’s good to have that as a part of her legacy. On a personal level she was engaging and good company. She will be missed, by colleagues around the world, by her students, but most by her close family and friends, to whom condolences.

  24. Dana Brynelsen

    Judith was a wonderful human being and it was a privilege to know her. We met many times over many years through our shared interest in child language development and disorders and disability in general. I worked for many years with the Infant Development Programs of BC and Judith and I were on related committees from time to time. She was brilliant. She contributed so much to so many. It was hard to learn that she is gone. My deep sympathy to her family and friends.

  25. Tamara Wasiak

    I feel so fortunate to have been one of the last students who was lucky enough to have had Judith be my mentor for my graduating essay for my Masters. She pushed me hard to be excellent and to think outside the box. Her class taught us to think so differently and addressed issues so much bigger than I think our baby SLP brains could even comprehend at that time – however, her influence continues to be felt in my approach to clients, families and the issues within the realm of speech language pathology. Her book ‘Thinking about Child Language’ is a way that her legacy lives on and continues to shape minds into the future. My deepest condolences to her family. She will be missed and not forgotten.

  26. Alanna Tom

    I just heard of Judith’s passing and I am incredibly saddened by the news. Judith was such a wonderful, caring person who improved the lives of so many around her, including mine. She was one of the first people in my adult life to treat me like a serious, smart, capable person with good ideas. Being able to work for her as an undergraduate was one of the most fortunate and meaningful experiences I have had.

    She was also one of the most honest and forthright people I have ever met; she was never afraid of telling the truth. But she was also incredibly kind and fair. I have always admired that rare combination of qualities and will forever treasure the advice and support she offered me in that spirit.

    My heart goes out to all of Judith’s family, friends, colleagues, and students who must be feeling this terrible absence.

  27. Michelle Smits

    I had the privilege of receiving Judith’s thoughtful wisdom many years after graduating with my Master of Sciences in 1996 and becoming an Audiologist. During my studies at UBC, I had limited interaction with her at the School however always remembered her to be very approachable. It was not until 2008 when I was working through a distance course on Auditory Processing Disorders for my Doctor of Audiology degree that I reached out to her. Given the program through which the course was presented, processing disorders of acoustic information was presented as being best viewed from an auditory perspective. Throughout the coursework I struggled with thoughts that higher order language, cognition or some overall/general processing limitation could be at work. It was then that I contacted Judith hoping that she would spare some time for a former student. Of course, she was more than happy share her time and thoughts on the varying views. Ultimately, she calmed my nagging thoughts that I was somehow “delinquent/misguided” in my perspective and encouraged me to continue to be open to think beyond the label. Thank You Judith!

  28. Carol P. Herbert

    I had the pleasure of serving as Head of the Department of Family Practice concurrently with Judith’s leadership of the School of Audiology an Speech Sciences. We sat together on the Dean’s Council of the Faculty of Medicine, along with Judith Hall, the third woman in the otherwise male organization. We were a mutual support group! Judith was a great contributor to discussion of faculty issues, thoughtful, reflective and forthright in her opinions. My favourite memory of Judith was at a Council meeting at which someone made a racist ‘joke’ about Indigenous people; Judith quietly rose, looked around the room, and declared that she was proud of her own Indigenous ancestry. She was a gracious, intelligent, cultured woman who was devoted to her field and to her students. She was an original thinker who increased understanding of language development and cognition. She will be missed. My sincere sympathy to her family.

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